how i got this baby

The Mom Who Kept the Cremated Remains From Her Abortion in Her Purse

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

When Jessica was younger, she worried that becoming a mother would mean losing her sense of self. Over the years, that changed: She started feeling more drawn to the idea and noticed that her friends who were mothers had maintained a sense of self. Soon after she and her husband started trying, she became pregnant; it was a typical pregnancy, until a scan at 13 weeks. She discusses how a psychic helped with her loss, being told she’d had “two strokes of bad luck,” and the thoughts she has now while looking at her son.

On a new response. My husband and I have been together for 20 years now. We were together for eight years before we got married, and I was very up-front with him about my ambivalence over having a family. I always associated motherhood with a loss of identity. As in, losing myself. I struggled in therapy for a number of years with that self-imposed pressure. I’m not sure if it was selfishness, immaturity, or if I just had a lot of other interests outside of motherhood. I was just never that girl who dreamed of becoming a wife or mother.

Eventually, though, I did get onboard. For me, it was almost a biological thing that kicked in. I remember being at the gym, running on the treadmill and seeing a commercial with a baby and before I knew it, my hands were on my lower abdomen. It was a very knee-jerk response. Something had shifted.

I was also the late bloomer among my friends, so I got to have a glimpse into the future of what parenthood might look like for me by watching my friends. None of them seemed to lose themselves completely to motherhood. They seemed, at least to me, to exist outside of motherhood, while also being very mindful and present parents. The idea of becoming a mother seemed a lot more possible and desirable.

On what seemed like a “normal” pregnancy. When I was about 34, it just felt like the time to start. I was never really one who adored babies; I would have been stoked to give birth to a 2-year-old. I got pregnant the first or second time we tried. I was in grad school at the time, and I figured that was something I could put on hold during the late stages of my pregnancy and during the first year or so, that I could go back and forth with.

The pregnancy was really normal: I was nauseous, I wrestled with some ambivalence but gradually grew more attached. At 13 weeks, I went in for a routine ultrasound to measure the nuchal translucency, which assesses the risk of chromosomal abnormalities. I remember having an instinct, during the scan, to look away from the monitor and feeling guilty about that. The measurements were outside the normal range. This meant that our baby had a very significant risk of having an abnormality that could be fatal or cause suffering.

As we drove home, my husband said, “We can’t think of it as a baby.” At that point, I was like, “No, no, no — it is. It’s our baby. This is our baby. Whatever we decide to do, this is our baby, and we can’t deny that.” My attachment was there.

On deciding what to do. We spent about a week with sleepless nights, reading medical journals, getting second and third opinions. We met with a number of specialists. I live in L.A., so it’s a very liberal atmosphere — the doctors gave me very candid advice. I asked them what they would advise their sister to do in my position. They all said, If you were my sister, I’d advise you to terminate and try again.

We did further testing. We did a CVS. We did a genetic microarray screening. Everyone discussed the abnormalities as a stroke of bad luck. We had been so naïve. We’d never had a conversation about what we might do in a position like this. I remember seeing a nine-week embryo at the “Body Worlds” exhibit and thinking, Wow, I believe abortion should be legal, but I don’t know if I could ever do that. You just don’t know until you live it.

On her choice. We made the heart-wrenching choice to not bring a child into this world who would suffer. It was the most difficult and agonizing week of our lives. The choice was extremely philosophical and personal. And I understand why others might not make the same choice, but I had an abortion at 14 weeks. I wrote my baby a letter and buried it under an olive tree that we had planted. In that letter, I explained to him that this was a choice we made out of love for him, as his parents.

It was a lot to process. I’d felt a connection to him that was almost otherworldly, one I can’t quite put into words. I was grieving, and I was in therapy. It was very dark, but life continued. My husband and I were functioning, but we held something very broken inside of us. It was rough.

On getting pregnant again. About three months later, we did try again. I got pregnant again right away.

I was very conscious that this was a new relationship, that I wasn’t replacing anyone. I had so much therapy that I was able to differentiate and experience this pregnancy for what it was. Obviously, the fear that goes into a pregnancy after a loss … you can’t intellectualize that fear away. I did feel like a mother right after I got the positive test. It was almost like a muscle memory.

At 11 weeks along, I went to Japan. I did all the right things: didn’t get the full-body scan at the airport, didn’t drink sake, didn’t eat sushi or go in hot springs. I was meditating with my baby an extra time every day. The bond felt so tight at that point. Since the prior pregnancy had been chalked up to bad luck, nobody was anticipating it happening again. I mean, of course, there was a list of other things that could go wrong.

Still, I did not expect to get the same result, when I walked into the nuchal translucency scan again. But we did. And this time, the measurements were further outside of the normal range and there appeared to be cystic hygroma. We met with specialists; we researched. Everyone, without fail, told us the same thing with a look of helplessness on their face: “Two strokes of bad luck.”

We tried not to let the emotions take over while we went to appointments, while we gathered as much information as we could. But bubbling underneath I was at a breaking point.

On being pregnant and present. The underbelly of all that was trying to be present with my baby. Having been through this before, I was trying to be very conscious about making the most of every day. We had four weeks, while we explored and researched and tested and sat with our choice. I sang to him, I went to the beach. I tried to find different things to do each day, while he was still with me. I talked to him about everything we were doing.

I really felt the bond. I didn’t want to deny the experience, or the reality. Being very present did make it more difficult. But I don’t have regrets about our choice to have an abortion, or about how I chose to meet it head on.

On finding the right spot. This time, we got the remains. We didn’t have a spot picked out for him yet, so I carried him around in my purse.

My mom really felt like that was very dark. I could feel her disapproval. Carrying him around didn’t last very long; we did find his spot. But I just didn’t want to separate from him. During that time, I went to an audition and an actress with a living baby in a stroller asked me to watch her baby while she went in. It took all my strength not to ask her to return the favor.

I ended up finding the right spot for him by talking to an intuitive, who guided me toward the right spot to bury him. She also told me that it was the same soul for both pregnancies, that he was very unhappy with his body but that he would return. That was very helpful. I found a lot of solace in talking to her.

After my second abortion, I was a high-functioning wreck. The whole experience was very isolating, and I think that’s one of the reasons I want to be so vocal about it now. Because I now know that the experience is not entirely uncommon.

On trying again. My husband was very clear about wanting to try again. I was facing some ambivalence and a tremendous amount of fear, but at the same time — I’d felt something open up in me, by carrying these babies.

Life went on, things evolved, and finally, a time came when I was ready, about seven months later. I got pregnant again pretty quickly.

On balancing excitement with fear. I think the excitement dominated, but the fear never really goes away. My OB told me to come in for an ultrasound whenever I wanted — he knew I would have concerns. This was now 2013, and there was a new test that could be done at about eight weeks. This test wasn’t available for my prior two babies. That testing, which came back clear, knocked out some of the questions and question marks for the rest of the pregnancy. We did the other normal testing — an NT scan came back clear. There was no reason to do a CVS or an amnio, this time.

I was still afraid. I feel like the fear doesn’t ever really go away, even once they’re alive. As the pregnancy went on, after the 20-week exam, we were able to breathe a little bit more. But my sense of trust was lost.

On giving birth. In a nutshell, the birth was its own trauma with a lowercase t, a very lowercase t. I’d had these natural-birth fantasies, but I was open to whatever needed to happen, happening. We’d hired a doula to help, but she canceled on us two days before I went into labor — she was experiencing her own personal crisis.

So, we were on our own. But after we’d been through what we’d been through, our response was like, “We can handle this.” I went into labor in our living room; by the time we drove to the hospital, I was in excruciating pain. My water hadn’t broken yet, but an ultrasound showed that my amniotic fluid was low, so they gave me Pitocin to induce labor. After 24 hours, nothing was happening. His head was big; he was sunny-side up. Finally, my doctor said I was going into risk territory, and they’d need to do a C-section.

What happened was so the opposite of what I’d imagined with my doula … they wheeled me into a bright, fluorescent room with Top 40 playing in the background. Next thing I knew, I was numb from the waist down, shaking uncontrollably from the waist up. They delivered him, and there was a moment’s scare about his oxygen intake. But we were relieved of anything being a problem after about 15 to 20 minutes. Those 15 to 20 minutes were even longer and harder for my husband, who was a lot less out of it than I was. I think that concern was heightened because of everything we’d already been through.

On parenthood. When I held my son, the amount of gratitude and — I don’t know the words — joy, and love. It felt like it had been built up for so many years.

Temperamentally, I think I’m a pretty anxious person. I don’t think my experiences of loss have affected my parenting style. But I do think they’ve affected my sense of the fragility of it all — that everything could change in a second. For the first year my son was alive, I don’t know if I could walk down the stairs with him in my arms and not think about dropping him. I don’t let that control me, but those images do come from that deep fear and familiarity with loss.

It’s been four and a half years, and while this motherhood gig is far from easy — by any stretch — it’s been one that has made my heart open up in ways I never knew were possible. I now understand what it means to unflinchingly say that I would take a bullet for someone. When I look at my son, I see our journey. I think it’s how our past is held within me.

The Mom Who Kept the Remains From Her Abortion in Her Purse